Filling up space with great color, texture and form

Last time I focused on some of my favorite broad-leaved foliage Fillers. As you may recall, I am pre-planning some ideas for a new garden space without actually having that space. A couple of posts back I chose a great Thriller plant to work with in this potential design and then I added to plan a few different colors and forms of Japanese maple that I think will fill in nicely with their multi-seasons of colorful foliage. But, I certainly cannot fill the space with broadleaves alone – I also need to add an assortment of colorful and interesting dwarf conifers. This time I will mention some plants that I think will work well together based on their sizes, shapes and their growth rates.

Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ adds good color and a lot of great texture to fill garden space.

Beginning with a large, silvery, bluish-green Thriller specimen (Picea omorika ‘Gotelli’s Weeping’) and then adding a deep red Filler (Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’) I can continue to fill space with some very nice color and texture. One plant that will add both a unique texture and a pleasing green color is Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’. This very popular dwarf conifer will slowly fill space with its coarse cords of light green foliage. Growing into a mounding form with branches which arch upward, out and droop toward the ground creates a very nice complement to the upward growing branches and red foliage of the ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’. It will also make a nice background plant to smaller fill-plants and other dwarf and miniatures that I will discuss later.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ is a slow-growing filler that adds a thrill of its own with its great color and superbly graceful form.

The next two dwarf conifers that I want to consider for my imaginary space, yet-to-be are Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ and Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’. Although both are plants with yellow foliage, they are quite different shades of yellow and each has its own unique foliage and growth habit. ‘Nana Lutea’ is the classic Dwarf Golden Hinoki and had been very popularly used in gardens for the past 50 years. It grows very slowly into a pyramidal shape with tightly held sprays of golden yellow foliage that become more intensely colored with increased hours of sunlight. It may need some protection from the hot afternoon sun in some locations to prevent its near white portions of foliage from scalding. A mix of sun and shade should provide beautiful color.

Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’ is a filler with pleasing form, bright color and a lovely scent.

‘Golden Globe’ on the other hand, is a more vigorous grower with more muted yellow tones. It responds very well to light shearing, and I prefer to keep mine in a neat globe shape by running the shears over the new foliage once per year. This practice not only helps keep the plant in tip-top form, but releases its magnificent perfume and makes shearing less a task and more of a real pleasure. Depending on the overall space, I may use one or both of these in my future design.

Ahhh… my imaginary new garden space is beginning to fill in nicely. Be sure to come back next time for more of my dreamy Fillers!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Weeping welcomed here

A few posts back I mentioned that I would be sharing some of my ideas for conifer groupings in my future garden. One of the primary features of any plant grouping is the “focal point.” This concept applies to large garden vistas, smaller viewing spaces and all the way down to container gardens. You have probably heard someone use the phrase, “thriller, filler and spiller” when talking about container garden design, and the same basic concept applies to the full-sized garden. Each of the plant groupings that I will share will incorporate this basic design concept in one way or another.

Picea omorika ‘Gotelli Weeping’ – This specimen “thriller” is a brilliant focal point in the garden.

One of my favorite larger “thriller” plants is a beautiful form of the Serbian Spruce. This cultivar was admired many years ago growing in the National Arboretum with the name, Picea omorika ‘Pendula’ and was propagated and sold for many years with that name. In 1979 a respected conifer enthusiast and grower gave it a distinct cultivar name because it appeared to have unique characteristics and it was believed to be important to keep clones of this distinct tree separate from the assorted other pendulous forms that had been marketed under the name ‘Pendula’. Unfortunately, it has taken many years for that name change to take place throughout the world of conifers (including conifer growers) so this magnificent cultivar may still be found in US garden centers under the name P.o. ‘Pendula’.

‘Gotelli Weeping’ is a large tree pushing out a foot or two of new leader growth per year, depending on its cultural conditions. The young graft I had in my past garden pushed 15 to 18 inches of terminal growth the last two years in my care. At the time of this writing, the specimen pictured here is over 22 feet tall. It was 12 feet tall when it was planted in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden in 2008.

I will plant ‘Gotelli Weeping’ as a specimen focal point and then add dwarf conifers, Japanese Maples and other ornamental plants to fill in space and add color and texture. “Spillers” in this case may be a combination of ground covering conifers, perennial plants and annual flowers. I my case, I expect that my future garden will be confined to a smaller suburban space, so I will want to plan carefully where I place any larger trees. When planting my ‘Gotelli Weeping’ I will want to provide ample space for it to grow large and to be viewed from all angles.

Next time I will discuss some of the “filler” plants that are high on my list to plant near this fine specimen.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

The garden of my dreams – in my dreams

I have been thinking about plant combinations. Now that I have the clean slate of my imagination without the constraints of an actual garden space, I have been enjoying creating the garden of my dreams – in my dreams. With all my years growing conifers of all types, sizes, shapes, colors and textures, I am drawing upon that experience in an attempt to design small garden vignettes which I will be able to utilize in my new garden – wherever it may be.

Pulling from my mind’s database of somewhat commonly available garden conifers (and other exciting garden plants) and utilizing the vast amount of information available through the internet, my goal is to create versatile combinations of plants that will work together well in an assortment of planting space sizes and shapes. The emphasis of my designs will be pleasing combinations of characteristics and growth rates, so that the plants will complement and flow together whether in a longer, linear bed or a wider, rounder space. Of course once I decide on the most important plants that I want to ensure I include in these garden vignettes, I can explore the many possibilities for filler plants, ground covers and even <gasp> flowering perennials, trees and shrubs.

 

‘Confucius’ is a beacon of bright, beautiful, year-round color in the garden.

I like to design with bold colors so that my gardens are filled with interest and excitement all year long. Dwarf and miniature conifers are available in a vast assortment of vibrant yellows, golds and blues with shades of green from very dark to very bright and some even exhibit a variegated combination of color. Along with the wide range of color choices are also variations in texture that affect the garden nearly as much as strong color statements. Compact, small-needled plants with many small branches held tightly can provide a dense, fine texture. Plants with longer, wispy needles covering long branches obviously give on open, airy feel to the garden.

There are literally thousands of conifer cultivars which supply my garden design dreams and imagination with all kinds of excitement. My goal is to begin by limiting myself to readily available cultivars. Once I actually have a new place to grow a garden, I can become more serious about tracking down some of the more rare conifers that have limited availability, and those that may only be available through other conifer enthusiasts and collectors.

One tree I believe will be a very wise choice to include in my future garden is Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Confucius’. I may have described this premium, golden yellow Hinoki Cypress in the past, but it is well worth mentioning again today. As an intermediate grower ‘Confucius’ puts out an average of 6 to 10 inches of new terminal growth per year. Lush, bright yellow foliage covers irregular branches and darkens to golden hues as it matures. Interior foliage, with less sun exposure, is lighter yellow green graduating to darker green the farther into the interior of the tree one looks. The gardener may choose to allow its irregular branching to dominate or, with a little pruning, a more symmetrical habit can be encouraged. In time, ‘Confucius’ will become a very prominent specimen and should be placed where its bright color will draw attention to, and complement other garden plants.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Enter the Cobra

Sometimes I crack myself up. Seriously. Sometimes my first impression of a new plant is so poor that I roll my eyes and wonder why anyone would propagate the darned thing, let alone in large enough numbers to market it across the continent. What makes me laugh at myself, is that more often than not, those plants that I initially had such a strong negative reaction to, later become among my favorite of all plants. Several years ago I mentioned Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ as being a plant just like this. My initial response was not one of jubilation, but as I wrote in that blog post, ‘Acrocona’ has become one of my all-time favorite conifers!

Enter the Cobra.

This Picea abies ‘Cobra’ began its life as an odd looking, long single stick covered in green needles. Today it is full of lush foliage, and because of its culture, makes a unique focal point and an excellent ground cover.

The first time I cast my eyes upon this plant, Picea abies ‘Cobra’, it was a fairly young graft. It appeared to be essentially a fat stick covered with dark green needles and a few brownish-tan buds—absent of any side branches at all. It had been trained to grow up a bamboo stake to a height of almost five feet (in just 3 or 4 years). I simply could not imagine the appeal of such an oddity. I am definitely a fan of many unusual looking conifers, but this one, trained straight up the stake, without any side branches, just seemed to be past my point of appreciation.

A few years later I happened upon this very same conifer, in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden and it had been transformed. Once its terminal growth reached the top of its supporting stake, it curved and then headed right down to the ground. I also noticed that those few lateral buds I had seen on my initial observation had sprouted new, vigorous lateral branches, which followed the example of the terminal, and swept outward and down, weeping to the ground. Many other new buds had formed and the plant had begun to fill out in a most spectacular way.

Today, some 15 years later, the plant has filled out with loads of sweeping, weeping branches, flopping and flowing to the ground where they lay prostrate and layer themselves into a most excellent ground cover. Overall the effect is quite stunning and this particular conifer has become one of my very favorite of the Weeping Norway spruce cultivars available today from independent garden centers around the world.

If your initial encounter with ‘Cobra’ reminds you of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, go ahead and take it home to your garden, in just a few years I think it will become one of your all-time favorites too!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Dreaming of spring

In my corner of the Pacific Northwest, we have enjoyed some of the most pleasing spring-like weather for several days in a row – which seems terribly unfair since I know many of my friends are in a wintry deep-freeze right now. Today I thought I would share some beautiful spring-time garden photos hopefully easing the winter blues some of you may be struggling with and to inspire all of us to get out into our gardens as soon as weather permits. In my case, the weather forecasters see an end to our pleasant, sunny days and a return to our cold, gray rain – which suits me just fine, it is only February after all. Who knows, we may even see snow showers mixed with our rain in the local area throughout the month of March keeping us in winter dormancy a little longer!

This Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’ is an early one to leaf out and is among the first to announce that spring is here! I expect to see this a site like this by early April.
Even before their new growth in the spring, the dwarf conifers in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden are vibrant and full of life. You can see leaves just beginning to emerge on the tall Laceleaf Japanese Maples in the background.
By late April or early May, the garden is really coming to life! Conifers are showing new growth, maples have leafed out, flowers are full of color – the spring air smells so goooood!
Lush new growth on the spring-time conifers is so fresh and colorful – The Jean Iseli Memorial Garden is inspirational!
By early June, all the plants in the garden are lush, and just being in their presence evokes feelings of peace and happiness.
Ahhhh… spring-time, with all its warmth and new life – it really is something to look forward to this time of year!

Hang on folks – especially my friends in the current deep freeze which is covering so much of the North American continent – spring really is coming!

Ed-
Conifer Lover